This article originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of the ICAEW’s FS Focus magazine.
A few months ago, I made the mistake of suggesting to a colleague that, despite him being eight years younger than me, we were in the same generation. Whilst I saw this as a good thing, my über-cool East-London-living friend was less than impressed with being bracketed alongside a mid-30s married suburbanite who spends his spare time filling up the bird feeder.
Herein lies the problem with generational thinking: trying to second-guess an entire population who happen to share a similar birth decade. There is, however, one very big difference between our age groups. Those in education when Google, Wikipedia, and a PC-per-person became commonplace have been able to access a world-wide-web of information instantly. Help with homework aside, this daily dose of digital discovery has made the globe seem smaller, raising expectations by allowing people to see the opportunities that exist through every portal and creating a shift in how people think about their careers.
Because of this, there’s no shortage of opinions on the dramatic changes we’re about to see in the workplace. Email might die. Everyone might work from home permanently and never meet their colleagues. Which is just as well, as their colleagues may, in fact, be robots controlled by Facebook or Amazon.
If these things do happen, then it won’t be for a few years yet. And there’s plenty that won’t change, too. Deci & Ryan’s ‘Self-determination’ theory – stating that all of us desire autonomy, competence, and relatedness to be motivated – is likely to be as true for the next generation as it was for the last.
However, there are already three areas where we can see change beginning to take hold, making them a priority for companies who want to retain their top talent:
1. Time is Money
The old model of get a job, work like crazy for 50 years, and then finally enjoy life just isn’t that appealing any more, especially with growing uncertainty about the age of retirement. Increasingly, people want to experience the good things in life as they go, intertwining their bucket list experience with their work patterns and priorities.
Supporting this view is a couple of the findings from the brilliant Future Agenda open foresight programme. This found that there’s a real likelihood of an increase in ‘Bleisure’ time – workers more consciously seeking to blend business and leisure and working whilst travelling, allowing them to take longer breaks, job share, or even job switch.
It also found that ‘Sabbatications’ may become more common place, with employees looking to emulate Stefan Sagmeister, a New York-based graphic designer who takes a year off every seven years to refresh and recharge. People are increasingly keen to take time for travelling, parental leave, or just to try something else for a while, seeing the world and being seen to see the world by their friends, families, and followers.
So the principle of working for an employer with a flexible approach to time off – and one who understands that the alternative is a good person choosing to resign instead – is highly appealing to those joining the workforce in the 2010’s. Will the 25 days-plus-bank-holidays approach really give the next generation what they need to explore the world?
2. I’m more than my job
For generations, there’s been a one-word answer to oldest dinner party question: ‘So, what do you do?’. Banker, Butcher, Consultant, Chef, Marketeer, Accountant, or Doctor. Increasingly, people don’t want to be defined simply by their job title, being likely to have a range of interests and experiences that make up who they are.
Google’s 20% time is often cited as a great way for a business to innovate, allowing their people to spend a day a week exploring their own ideas in the hope of coming up with the Next Best Thing. However, the principle is becoming even more appealing for the person involved, having time to try new things and discover what else they enjoy, scratching the itch that might be most prominent on a Monday morning.
I recently worked with two such people in my last job at a bank, both superb in their jobs, but far more defined by what they did outside of their work – illustration and podcasting. They both now run successful businesses in what were their ‘extra-curricular’ activities, and I often wonder how the bank could have better supported a transition between the two, retaining some of their skills for some of the time, and giving them a foot up to focus on their real passion for the rest.
This raises real questions for corporate learning and development in the future. Will the current focus on core compliance and competency frameworks suffice, or can both employer and employee explore new opportunities together, for mutual benefit?
3. Move up or move on
It’s not a particularly startling revelation that a job for life isn’t the done thing any more. However, what is interesting is the determination of those starting out in their career to have that variety, deliberately planning careers that will span companies, industries, and countries and at a pace that suits them.
A recent PWC study of those who had graduated between 2008-2011 showed that over half of them expected to have between two and five jobs in their career, and a quarter expected to have between six and ten. Perhaps more telling than that is that 70% would like to work in at least one other country during the course of their career, with the majority of respondents citing the ‘opportunity for career progression’ being the main attraction of a prospective employer.
So perhaps the biggest challenge traditional companies face now is how to keep their bright and ambitious people motivated and satiated, creating a more open relationship between employer and employee. This means finding better ways to offer new career opportunities in the short term, such as partnerships with other business and universities, whilst retaining the talent and commitment to the cause in the long term.
With all of the above, there is a health warning. Experiencing life, travelling the world, and hopping from job to job sounds exciting in your early 20s, but when the reality of housing, children, and recycling starts to bite, an element of certainty in life is appealing. But I think that, whatever generation you’re in, flexibility in how you spend your time, support to explore outside interests, and variety in your long career sounds appealing. So the companies that start to get those things right first may find it’s more than just the new generation of talented employees that want to come and work with them.
Thank you for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at johnjsills.com/subscribe to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.
Wonderful comments John and thank you for kind mention of the Future Agenda programme. As it happens, the way that Future Agenda operates (and Growth Agenda too, the core team behind the project) is a bit like Bleisure and Sabbatication that you mention. Indeed, downing tools every five years to set off on a global exploration called Future Agenda to find out about how 1,000’s of people see the world in 10 years’ time, is a sabbitication for some. A hard-working, but nevertheless, fun-filled sabbatication. This might make Future Agenda and Growth Agenda ‘on trend’!
Thanks again John and keep up the great posts. Oh…and the bird feeder looks empty!
I had this last week!! I flippantly said ‘our generation’ in a conversation and I could see them all looking at me like they couldn’t comprehend why I’d think I was like them! Feeling old now John!
I had that in a presentation to new Grads once. There was open laughter…